Astigmatism is an imperfection of the curvature of the cornea or in the shape of the eye’s lens. This condition is very common and almost all of us have it to a degree.
In a normal eyeball, cornea and lens are smooth and curved equally in all directions. This helps to focus light rays sharply onto the retina at the back of the eye. However, if the cornea and lens aren’t smooth and evenly curved, light rays aren’t properly refracted. This is called refractive error. In cases when the cornea has the irregular shape, it is called corneal astigmatism. And when the shape of eye lens is distorted, we have lenticular astigmatism. In both types of astigmatism, images focus in front of and beyond the retina causing the vision to be blurry or distorted when you look at objects that are both near and far.
What Causes Astigmatism?
In most cases people are born with an astigmatism or some degree of it, and they may have it along with other refractive errors such as nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia). While adults may realize their vision has changed and that it isn’t as it used to be, children who have astigmatism symptoms, may not be able to realize this since it is unlikely they’ll complain about blurred or distorted vision. Uncorrected astigmatism can seriously impact a child's ability to achieve in school and sports. It is crucial that children have regular eye exams to detect astigmatism or other vision problems as early as possible.
Astigmatism is not always inherited, sometimes a trauma to the eye, disease, or surgery might trigger it. Some forms of astigmatism can be a sign of keratoconus, a disorder that causes cone-like bulge of the cornea, which can distort vision. This brings about more severe astigmatism that may require special contacts or surgery, but it’s also rarer.
Independently of whether your astigmatism is mild or not, it will require some form of medical correction for clear vision. Thankfully, most forms of regular astigmatism blurriness are easily correctable.
Astigmatism symptoms may include blurry vision or areas of distorted vision, eyestrain, headaches, squinting to try to see clearly or eye discomfort. Blurred vision, especially around the edges of an object, this can affect both near and distant vision. When an astigmatism is bad, some people describe seeing as if they are viewing an image through glass that has an irregular surface, double images, or distorted images.
The inability to see both near and distant objects without squinting is another sign of astigmatism. This can cause headaches or eye strain and fatigue after reading, being on a computer, or trying to focus. Blurring and pain usually become worse when reading small print and towards the end of the day, after trying to focus for many hours. Letters or shapes can appear thin, or thinner than normal, compressed, stretched, or tilted. You might see better in some directions than others (vertically, horizontally or diagonally) or recognize some letters or shapes more easily than others (O versus X). Having these symptoms may not necessarily mean that you have astigmatism, but they do indicate that you should pay a visit to your eyecare doctor for a complete eye exam.
Treatment For Astigmatism
Having a slight astigmatism is very common, and in most cases, doesn’t need to be treated until it starts causing vision problems. Symptoms are normally treatable using contact lenses or surgery, but, the condition itself is chronic and therefore usually life-long. Treatments such as special eyeglasses or contact lenses that can help correct sight in those with vision problems will require a medical diagnosis and prescription. Soft lenses, called toric contact lenses can correct astigmatism. But while soft toric lenses may be appropriate for some, if you have a severe astigmatism, rigid contacts or glasses may be a better option. Your eye doctor will discuss your lens options with you.
For some people with astigmatism, surgery may be an option to correct vision, including LASIK. Refractive surgery using a laser is rarely performed. This laser surgery changes the shape of your cornea, but the patient must have a healthy retina and limited scarring for it to work. LASIK surgery is one procedure in which a surgeon slices a flap into the cornea. Then a laser removes some tissue from beneath the sliced area to reshape the cornea and avoid light scattering. Irregular astigmatism is far less common and is linked to problems with your cornea, the front part of the eye. A common one is keratoconus, in which your normally round cornea becomes cone-shaped.
A treatment called cornea collagen crosslinking is often effective to help prevent worsening of keratoconus. Intacs are implants that are placed under the surface of the cornea to reduce the cone shape and improve vision. Also, a specialized laser procedure called PTK can smooth out a raised scar (like a callus) and improve contact lens comfort. If eyeglasses and contact lenses no longer provide stable and comfortable good quality vision, a cornea transplant can be performed. This involves removing the center of the cornea and replacing it with a donor cornea that is stitched into place.
Natural Treatment For Astigmatism
One of the ways of natural treatment of astigmatism is most definitely early detection and regular visits to your eye care doctor. Since even children can have an astigmatism it is very important to schedule annual eye exams to detect it early and correct vision. Over time, undetected astigmatism can become worse and cause problems like headaches, fatigues and lethargy. It can even cause difficulty concentrating and learning at school. Treat the problem in younger patients as early as possible.
Another way of naturally treating astigmatism are glasses and contact lenses. Even though many people prefer to wear contact lenses over glasses, an astigmatism can be tricky to correct using contacts. For people who already wear glasses for different vision problems, glass lenses can be easily corrected for astigmatism. Sometimes it takes some trial and error using different prescription glasses or contact lenses because not every patient reacts well to contact lenses or even glasses for astigmatism. Astigmatism lenses can be thick and uncomfortable in some cases. The eye doctor will choose a contact lens for the patient that balances the ideal correction level with what the patient can stand. Since there is no official prescription for a certain degree of astigmatism, it’s really up to the eye care doctor to decide which type of lenses will be best. Although, most doctors think that astigmatism can’t be prevented, the worsening of it can be.
Some of the reasons that cause the progression of astigmatism are poor diet that causes inflammation and conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure etc., exposure to the UV lights or blue lights from electronic devices and lack of nutrients in key vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that support eye health. Other factors that cause faster aging like a sedentary lifestyle, toxicity, drug use or smoking, etc. Make sure to take care of your eyes by including vitamins like lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids and other antioxidants like carotenoids, lycopene, glucosamine, etc. to your diet. All of the above-mentioned vitamins help stop free radical damage, prevent macular degeneration, lower the risk for cataracts, reduce glaucoma, eye fatigue, flare and light sensitivity and make tissues in the eyes and other areas stronger.
Eye Exercises For Astigmatism
The idea of exercising your eyes may seem strange but believe it or not, eye exercises can help you with your astigmatism. Your eyes have muscles that need exercise to remain strong just like the rest of your body. When you look at it that way it only makes sense that exercising your eyes would be a good idea. However, exercising your vision is not an overnight cure, it takes time to see the results. And even though, surgery may seem as a faster solution to your problems, why go through the expense and pain of eye surgery when a few simple exercises may cure the problem?
One of the main issues people have is sticking to the exercise program. It can be frustrating because it is often difficult to measure the improvement in your vision. Don’t give up, eye exercises take time to start working as our bodies respond to workouts slowly but surely as we get stronger. Start with something simple like reading a text in a book, don’t use glasses or any corrective lenses. Next avert your gaze to a different object. Switch back to the text you were reading and resume reading. Again, switch to the other object and focus for a moment before switching back to the text. Continue this on and off focusing/switching for a few minutes or until your eyes are tired. Don’t strain your eyes, if they become tired and sore, take a break from the exercise. After some progress with the exercises you will see that you can continue for longer periods of time before your eyes become tired. This provides one way for you to see that you are really making some progress.
Another exercise that will help you strengthen your peripheral vision is paper exercise. Get a piece of paper big enough to cover both of your eyes, but not to block your side vision. Again, start without using any corrective lenses. Attach the piece of paper to your forehead, so that your forward vision is blocked while you can still see from the corners of your eyes. Then, raise one hand up to the side of each of your eye. Try to see each finger on one side from the eye on that side and do all this without moving your head. Then, move on to the other side and do the same. Continue doing this for a couple of minutes or until your eyes are tired.
People with astigmatism have an incorrect perception of what looking straight ahead means and because of this, they tend to tilt their heads in one direction or the other. One way of correcting this condition is being conscious of this, so if you feel like tilting to the left or right, try tilting your head in the opposite direction of what feels most comfortable. Don’t worry if you catch yourself tilting at times, just try and correct it when you do notice it. It takes time to pay attention to this, since our bodies try to compensate for the vision problem and then this becomes a habit. It just takes a bit of time and patience to break this habit. If you correct it each time you notice it you can retrain your body.
Vitamins For Astigmatism
Vitamin A is one of the vitamins that are really good for astigmatism. Dark green vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, potatoes are a good source of vitamin A. By eating a diet rich in these vegetables, you will get enough vitamin A for your normal needs. Another great option for the extra intake of vitamin A are supplements. However, make sure to take correct dosages! Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning a vitamin supplement to ensure you are taking the right amount.
Vitamin B is also a good option for those with astigmatism. Foods that contain a lot of protein like meats, or if you prefer the vegan option – avocado, as these usually have a higher supply of vitamin B. You can eat salmon, catfish, trout, and many other types of fish. Also, opt for lamb, poultry, beef, eggs, and dairy. All of these foods are great sources of both protein and B vitamins, but again, if you feel you need to, consider taking a supplement.
Vitamin C is yet another good option for those with astigmatism. Eat a lot of green vegetables, peppers, citruses, and other fruits such as strawberries. Also, consider taking supplements if you prefer. Nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and calcium are also great for astigmatism. Get high sources of zinc by eating lima beans, oysters, and poultry. Magnesium can be found in pumpkin seeds, soybeans, black beans, sunflower seeds, and halibut. And, to get the most calcium, you can eat yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, any other dairy product really, and black-eyed peas.
Driving Performance With Astigmatism
One of the most frequent questions when it comes to astigmatism is whether it can affect your driving. It can most certainly make driving risky. This usually applies to night driving. People with astigmatism have severely reduced night vision, due to pupil dilation in low light conditions, which can exacerbate focal difficulties. Even during the day, astigmatism sufferers can have problems with light, some will see halos, blurring, and severe distortion in certain conditions. In darkness all these difficulties become even worse, sometimes to the point that activities that require a high degree of visual acuity – such as driving – become difficult or even impossible to do safely.
Most astigmatic sufferers wear either glasses or contacts and this too can cause complications at night. Glasses can create glare, which is especially noticeable with artificial lighting after dark. Contacts can be even worse – if not kept well-hydrated, they can dry out after a long day, causing discomfort and worsened sight. However, this can be easily solved, glasses with anti-reflective treatment can reduce glare and can help cut down on visual distortions in low light. For contact wearers, think about hybrid lenses. Some contacts specially designed to treat astigmatism have a rigid outer rim, but a more flexible center. These hybrid lenses may offer a better solution for some.
Despite all advances in corrective technology, some individuals with astigmatism will still find themselves unable to drive safely. While licensing regulations vary from state to state, most individuals with extremely poor vision will be evaluated by a physician to determine what conditions they’re able to drive in. It’s entirely possible to receive a license that allows driving during the day, but with a condition that states that the holder is unable to legally drive at night.
Can Astigmatism Get Worse?
Mostly, astigmatism stays the same. However, some people experience their condition worsening over time. This process of worsening is very slow but you may notice your problem becoming severe with age. If your job involves scanning columns of numbers or something similar it is believed that you are more likely to develop astigmatism. This occurs because you move your eyes in a specific direction a lot more than other people. Also, people with poor diet are more likely to develop astigmatism. On the other hand, there are certain factors that contribute to this vision deterioration. To understand what causes our vision to deteriorate, first we must better understand different types of astigmatism.
Astigmatism can be divided into two categories: regular and irregular. Regular astigmatism happens due to an irregular shape of the eye and the causes are usually genetic. Irregular astigmatism refers to the problem caused by damage to the eye and it usually improves with surgery or contacts. Ocular stress can aggravate your astigmatism to some extent, and that is why you should avoid it no matter the type of astigmatism you have.
A number of stressors contribute to ocular stress. For instance, excessive computer use, reading and specific jobs. Many jobs require spending time in front of a computer screen, but you need to ensure that you take short breaks and focus your eyes on something else. Even if you do not get up and walk for a couple of minutes, be sure to take vision breaks at least. Excessive computer use is most certainly one of the main contributors of ocular stress. Reading, too, can cause eyestrain and it gets worse when you also consider the role of electronic reading devices like tablets and digital e-book readers in your life. Spending the entire day in front of your computer is tiring for your eyes but you make matters worse by including digital e-book readers in your routine. Specific jobs such as writing, reading, sewing, or even accounting, anything that you have to keep close to your face, falls into the category of detailed work. Too much of such close-up work can cause ocular stress. You should take serious care of your eyes when your job involves fine detailed work. Moreover, you can make ocular stress even worse by working in low light, watching TV in low light, not drinking enough water, or not having a balanced diet.
Paying attention to these factors and correcting these issues may actually help improve your astigmatism. You can try avoiding ocular stress by following some steps. For example, the 10-10-10 rule, take a short break of 10 seconds after every 10 minutes and focus on something 10 feet away. You can try it while reading, working on a computer or even doing any fine detailed work. If there is a window in your office, look at something 10 feet away after every 10 minutes of whatever you are doing for 10 seconds only. Make it a habit and you will soon notice some positive changes in your vision.
A poor diet can also contribute to vision problems. Make sure that your diet includes lots of vitamins and important nutrients to keep your eyes healthy. You can also take vitamin supplements to reduce ocular stress and improve astigmatism. Believe it or not, blinking can help you a lot. When engrossed in doing something, people forget to blink and blinking helps keep your eyes lubricated. It also helps relieve some stress.
Ensure that you have good lighting in the area where you are working on your computer. And keep blinking to prevent vision problems. A heater or air conditioner in your room can make your eyes dry. This causes serious irritation in the eyes and even contributes to ocular stress. The best thing is to install a humidifier in your room to prevent excessive dryness.
All in all, astigmatism is a condition not to be taken lightly since it can lead to blindness if left untreated. In addition, it can cause inconvenience and it can be really uncomfortable to people which will in turn greatly affect their lives. Finding a good astigmatism correction solution should be your priority.